Updated: February 1, 2013
Despite overwhelmingly warm feedback from pretty much everyone to my first review of Bodhi Linux almost two years ago, which pretty much sealed the deal, I decided to give it another shot. My label as an idiot, so to speak, notwithstanding, Bodhi has changed quite a bit since version 0.15. Now at increment 2.2, it continues its mission as a minimalist distribution based on Ubuntu.
All right, so let us have another go with this distribution. Bear in mind it's Ubuntu underneath all that, adorned with the Enlightenment 17 desktop environment. As you know, my requirements from a desktop distribution are fairly strict and harsh and revolve around simplicity, stability and productivity. Can Bodhi 2.2 handle it?
Live session - Minimalist is a tough word
No problem creating the bootable media and starting. Now, before you reach the desktop, Bodhi lets you choose your theme and desktop wallpaper. You have theme profiles named like Laptop, Tablet, Desktop, Bare, etc, all of which rearrange the desktop elements ever so slightly. Not bad, but the prevalent color is dark gray, both for the themes and the wallpapers, so if you want something lighter, you will have to wait. The first profile I chose was the so-called Laptop & Netbook, and it comes with a top panel.
Look & feel
While taste is subjective, there's no denying the fact Enlightenment 17 has been in development for almost a decade, and it feels somewhat ancient. Looking at my openGEU review from back in 2008, things looks pretty much the same. True, Enlightenment flies even on desktops with no OpenGL with reasonable performance and even a dash of 2D tricks, but on most systems, the layout will feel old.
The choice of fonts remains tricky. They looks somewhat weird and remain too small, no matter what size you choose. Then, the icons are busy and non-uniform, and this does not align with the minimalist approach.
Which makes me think. How does one define minimalist really? By removing a handful of programs, which are nothing more than static data on the disk? By reducing the memory footprint by removing unneeded services? That Bodhi does, to an extreme, and we will discuss that soon. By recompiling the kernel and removing unneeded functionality? No, not this one. By blacklisting all of the drivers for hardware not present on the box? No, not that one either? Would you define Apple's OSX as minimalist? Well, I surely would. Perhaps it's all in the presentation layer, and in this regard, E17 brings clutter.
Now, if you look at the desktop of the week competition on the official site, you will find some exemplary, well-polished setups, which combine grace and simplicity. For example, the WW52 2012 candidate is quite splendid. But what it does is the classic design trick; take two tones of the same color and play with them, with neutral elements where flair is not needed. If you ask me, that's how ought to be.
Tweaking the desktop looks is very tricky. It takes a hell of a lot of options and clicks. Enlightenment has a decentralized management, with a separate menu for each one of the categories, making you despair even before you begin. You even get a separate category for dropping shadows! It's almost like using GIMP, but for your desktop.
While I can breeze through a typical Gnome or KDE desktop at ease, here, I stood and watched in soft confusion. But then, we will discuss Enlightenment 17 separately, in another article.
Where is my network?
And now, problems started. First, there was no icon for configuring network. Since I was testing Bodhi on a laptop, Wireless was crucial for me. There's the network configuration tool available in the menu, but you need to manually input your SSID, ESSID, MAC and all other little details. And then, fire up the DHCP client from command line. At this point, I almost gave up, because I did the same thing with Trisquel and ROSA. I thought this was a one-time problem, so I rebooted.
Now, to answer a comment posted on Slashdot last week, in response to my most gentle Fedora 18 review, where someone mentioned that I come from the Windows world and do not understand that reboots do not help in Linux - yes they do. If there's a race condition or a bug in software somewhere, then it is quite possible that a reboot might resolve the issue. But let us not diverge into the realm of who has a bigger e-penis, we are reviewing Bodhi here, and almost giving up.
The second time around, I chose the Desktop profile, and the session looked a bit different, but it did nothing to resolve my networking woes. Using nm-tool from the command-line, I got all the necessary information I needed, and eventually got underway by manually configuring the Wireless networking. In one word, this is crap. If someone wants to be a hero playing with something as trivial as network, they can use dedicated anti-noob distributions like Arch, Gentoo or alike. This kind of trick on Ubuntu is almost a paradox.
What do you think? Of course not!
What you get is the so-called Book of One Thousand Excuses, where you read the very extensive online support manual, explaining how to get things done. Y'know, all those things normal people take for granted, and get for granted in a range of other distributions. Help files are basically a failure in design.
There's more at hand here. For example, you only get 32-bit support, or at least that's what it says, even though I was running the 64-bit version on my test box. There is no margin or padding for the text near the little thumbnail image on the Web page, so it looks somewhat ugly. You get four different font colors and the clashing red/green combo. There are at least three different font types I could spot. The Wireless icon had a white background that does not align well. The battery icon was gone. Even the distro menu icon was different. It had a kind of a green leaf in the Laptop profile, and now it just reads Bodhi inside a white circle.
Much like the first time, I did not think there was a reason to proceed and install Bodhi. Even the mouse cursor was sluggish and annoying, and my eyes were starting to hurt from the blurry effect of over-tiny fonts. But I did it. Another inconsistency, you get a different style for the installer. It's something GTK, not Enlightenment.
It went fairly well, but then mix and mesh of themes does not really work. In the partitioning stage, one of the checkboxes suddenly decided to jump sideways a few pixels, nothing major. Beats me why, but must the the desktop manager and whatnot.
And then, when the installation begins, it tells you about choice. In fact, there's a little paradox right there. The slide says, we strongly believe in minimalism and user choice, therefore you will only get a few tools out of the box. What? LOL. How's that user choice, if YOU dictate what they get? And if they don't know how to do all the rest, like configure Wireless manually, what choice do you leave them really?
AppCenter is fine, but to use it, you need Internet. Right? It's like that scene in Fawlty Towers, when O'Riley does a botched job by closing the kitchen door, and then Manuel comes and Basil asks him what he intends to do. Manuel tells him he is going to serve the breakfast and tries to find the door, then he looks at Basil and says: where is door? And then Basil gloats, and goes: aha. That's exactly the situation here. The AppCenter is the kitchen, and the door is the Internet. Here's the Fawlty Towers clip, watch the first minute and a half please:
After the installation, miraculously, I had both Wireless, sound and even the battery meter, although it now looked like a flask. Once again, all of the icons looked that much different.
The first thing I did was replenish all the missing bits, and the list is long. I needed everything, because Bodhi does not really give you anything. Still, even this step was not smooth. I installed VLC, but it was listed under some weird category named Programming. And the Synaptic package manager got stuck, displaying a weird window that trailed the position vector coordinates insides its square.
Eventually, I sorted it out, by installing all the missing plugins.
You do not really get anything useful. Midori as a browser, a text utility, and that's all really. No fancy programs. You are stripped bare of any decent functionality.
Now comes the punch line? What does running Enlightenment 17 on top of Ubuntu kernel really give you? How big and important is the improvement on middling hardware? Well, not that big, to tell you the truth. Bodhi allocated 1.62GB, of which 1.34GB was cached, so it comes down to about 280MB RAM on idle, which is nothing special, since I have seen CentOS and Debian perform in the under 200MB range without any difficulty, even with the full plethora of stuff. Unless you strip the kernel, you don't gain much really.
GTK programs were unresizable. I could not change them. Flash in Firefox struggled for some reason, and I have no idea why is this, maybe because Bodhi did not enable OpenGL or whatnot? Then, the screenshot tool had no option to grab current windows only. I could not find a way to change the delay, and it would always prompt me to save in the home directory, forgetting my previous choice.
Even after I installed the Samba tools, the default file manager would not show any network locations, making it absolutely useless. I installed Thunar and it did its job so much better.
And here's the final desktop:
Suggestions for making Bodhi better
Here's free advice, which I normally keep to myself, because it costs about USD150 per hour, that's how awesome I am. Simple, clean colors, two tones at most, white and coffee brown or gray. Consistent approach to every element, including icons, fonts and whatnot. No use of gradients whatsoever. A live session that offers everything and then ASKS users whether they want various things upon install, like codecs, extra drivers for hardware not currently present and so forth. That is choice! Giving users a crippled set is not choice.
If your users cannot configure their network properly or do not have the battery icon, and the network shares, printing, and media do not work, you are not giving them a minimalist desktop, you are giving them problems. If you want minimal, why not take it to the next level? Why give a desktop environment at all? What's the point? If people must resort to command line to do things, they don't need GUI. If people must install 300MB worth of programs to get basic functionality, they do not need Bodhi then. They can just use the stock Ubuntu.
It's really simple - do not take away, ASK users. A wizard, saying, do you need Windows connectivity yes/no, add or remove Samba client. The same for MP3 playback, Flash, printing, extra drivers, codecs, software, and so forth. That's minimalism, plus awesome visual layout. And this is what people do not understand. Minimalism is the choice of reduced complexity, not reduced functionality. Free advice worth several thousand bucks right there, no need to thank me.
Once again, I find Bodhi to be targeting a non-existent crowd. Sure, a handful of hardcore Linux users will like it, and swear by it, and all that. But this distribution is far, far from its stated mission of minimalism. It is complex and crippled and caters to highly experienced people who can achieve the same without any dedicated system.
On top of that, Bodhi brings in a huge range of problems that stem from its neutering, rendering a desktop that is virtually unusable. FFS, you need to configure the Wireless network manually, how's that? Then, you can't print, browse network shares for your pr0n, you cannot listen to music, watch videos, you get no software, it's just a terminal window for some Internet, plus a debatable quantity of old-time aesthetics. What for, really? Who is the target audience? Some grandpa somewhere? A Windows user? Who? And Bodhi weighs 550MB, so what's so slim about it? You want minimalist and fully functional? Grab Puppy Linux, it does everything at one quarter the size and half the physical resources.
I guess my stance does not change. Bodhi Linux is a stripped down Ubuntu with reduced functionality, a different presentation layer and tons of problems. I wish it could fill in the gap somewhere, but there's no gap. All of what it does can be met by fully functional distributions with a minimal extra performance and resource penalty. All in all, 2/10. Well, let's see what happens in a year or two. For now, feel free to send me letters of love like you did the last time.